Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Public doesn’t believe corporate carbon claims

April 2011

UK businesses risk facing a ‘costly backlash’ from consumers due to mistrust of their environmental claims and performance, according to the climate change standard organization, Carbon Trust.  

Research commissioned by the Carbon Trust has revealed that just seven per cent of the British public believe company claims of action on climate change, while 70 per cent want mandatory disclosure requirements imposed on firms, and 60 per cent think that third-party verification is necessary to avoid assumptions of greenwash.

Nearly all respondents wanted businesses to commit to the average three per cent emissions cut required for the UK to meet its 2050 climate change target. And two-thirds of the public currently question whether companies are genuinely cutting carbon emissions at all.

The benefits for companies genuinely investing in climate change action and fostering trust with the public on the issue are less clear, however. Only around half of respondents said they would be more loyal to brands that can demonstrate their commitment to stopping climate change, with the same proportion saying they would like to work for such a company.

It was also revealed that when people search for evidence of corporate climate change, they tend not to look at company sources, but rely more generally on looking for information through search engines such as Google.

Peter Walshe, the global director of BrandZ, the brand research firm that carried out the research, said: ‘The public are in a very uncomfortable place regarding climate change. They understand the significance of the issue, they recognise that businesses are a major emitter of emissions, but most are unclear as to the full extent – and what real action looks like.’

BrandZ estimates that, based on their other brand research, something like a two per cent sales increase or decrease may depend on a firm’s response to climate change.

The Carbon Trust said, however, that because greenwashing has created a general mistrust of brands, ‘there are huge opportunities for brands to stand out from the crowd’ and therefore benefits to be had for companies that take proper action.

The research follows the UK coalition government’s raft of environmental deregulation, some of which was announced by the Chancellor George Osborne in last month’s annual budget.

 The volume of renewable energy bought directly from small scale suppliers by Marks & Spencer has doubled in the past 12 months, the company says.

M&S reports that it is now directly sourcing an average volume of five gigawatt hours of ‘green’ energy per month from small scale suppliers such as farmers and landowners – which is equivalent to the electricity used by 100 M&S Simply Food stores. The energy is sourced from 25 small scale suppliers across the UK and uses a range of technologies including wind farms and hydro projects.

Carbon Trust | UK & NI Ireland | Climate change

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